Transport on the ground

For a quick video of this blog you can go HERE.

If there’s only one or two of you traveling you should look at alternatives to hiring a car. When you hire a car you need to look at including insurance costs. The last thing you want is to be out of pocket by thousands of dollars if you have an accident.

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For use in London

Another alternative is to go on public transport. My husband hates going on public transport but even he concedes that it’s a much cheaper way to go. However, you have to do your homework before you get on the plane. If there’s a group of you, it might be easier and cost effective to grab an Uber. If there’s just a couple of you and there’s a bus, train or ferry to where you want to go, why not try one of these.

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Metro Card for NYC

Before you leave home make sure you download maps and travel apps for the country/city you’re going to. Google Maps is my fallback. You don’t always have internet when traveling so take the stress out of it all. Also look into whether it’s better to get a one day, 7 day or 24 hour card. Some places like in London cap the daily use to a certain amount, meaning you can travel as much as you like for six pounds. It doesn’t take many trips on the Tube to get to six pounds. In other places you can transfer from a train to a bus at no extra cost if it’s within 2 hours.

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Opal card for New South Wales, Australia

Like I said – do your homework before you leave home. We wasted $30 on paying for a travel card we didn’t need.

Most places you will find a vending machine to obtain your card. Then you put as much money on it as you want. A lot of times you can use your credit or debit card. Don’t forget to keep your card as they don’t expire. We have cards from Dubai, Australia, the UK and NYC ready to use for the next time.

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Metro card for use in Dubai

Going on public transport might take you a bit longer but it can certainly save you a lot of dollars and you also get to see how ordinary people do life there. Give it a go.

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Essentials When Travelling

We’ve just returned from 6 weeks on the road in the US and UK. Living out of suitcases is never fun but there’s some ways to ease the burden. Here’s a list of essentials you’ll need while away:

 

  1. Ziplock Bags

These are a life saver. Whether you’re packing your shampoo and conditioner in one, or your makeup, it saves a lot of time having everything put in sealed plastic bags.

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  1. A face cloth

I’ve found that most places, even flash hotels don’t supply face cloths. Make sure you take a light one that can dry, so go budget.

 

  1. Washing bag

You can go to the $2 store and buy a meshed washing bag. These are great for throwing in your dirty laundry. Sure, you can put it in a plastic bag but this way is more superior and they last forever.

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  1. Limited clothes

We all take way too many clothes on a trip. For our 6 week trip I took just 2 black and 2 white tee shirts, 4 pairs of underwear and 1 good dress. There were also a couple of cardigans and 1 pair of shorts. How many pair of jeans you need depends on what the weather will be like. Remember that you can always buy clothes on the run. Airlines are becoming more strict on baggage weight so don’t think you can sweet talk them out of 5 kilos overweight.

 

  1. Small bag for jewelry

While I try to take a limited amount of jewelry on a trip it’s nice to be able to reach directly in a bag and find something I like. On long haul flights the airline tends to give you a small draw bag with toothpaste, toothbrush and eye mask. I’ve converted my Emirates one into a bag I put my earrings into.

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  1. Nail file

There’s nothing worse than having a broken nail and you’re out in the middle of nowhere. Cut your toe nails before you leave home, but definitely take a nail file.

 

  1. Antibiotic/Mossie cream

Sure, you can pick up a tube at the chemist when you’re out and about but when you’re itchy from a mosquito bite in the middle of the night you want to reach out to something there and then. Put the tube in a sealed plastic bag so it doesn’t explode on the flight.

 

  1. Coin purse

It might seem a bit girly but in some countries there are so many coins. You don’t want to have the hassle of going through your wallet trying to suss out unknown coins. Keep them separate from your notes. It’s also handy if you are paying to get your clothes washed at a laundromat and need quick access to coins.

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What are the essential items you take on your trips?

Coming Home

I once asked some friends who were returning to Australia after two years of volunteering in Tanzania “How long do you think it will take you to get used to being there?” Their answer was a couple of months.

After spending 6 weeks in the US, I can verify that answer. We were just getting used to the conveniences of life and how things worked in another world.

But now we’ve returned home.

Home is where the majority of my family is. Hannah is with her husband Luke in New Zealand, awaiting the birth of their first child next year. That leaves Pete, Liz and I.

home

We were all a bit anxious about returning because we knew what we were heading into. It will be home for a few more years. We were looking forward to a more familiar world and definitely not living out of a suitcase.

Home, a 4 letter word that means so much more than that.

Our first morning here was interesting. None of our showerheads were working, so I ended up having a bucket shower. One where you fill a bucket with boiled water and pretty much pour it over yourself a few times. I realized afterwards that I had forgotten to pull out the tap so water came out of the showerhead.

shower

We thought our internet had pretty good speed, until we went overseas. Now it feels painstakingly slow. It’s way better than dialup but also much slower than what we experienced in the US.

Coming home meant unpacking an entire houselot of furniture from a spare room. Because the floors had been sanded and repolished all of the cupboards were full of red dust. You could tell that the workers had thumbed through our clothes hanging up because their fingerprints were all over the place. We also discovered they had stolen our very good iron and used our TV stand as a ladder. We knew because there was paint all over it. To say we weren’t happy campers is an understatement. And this was just Monday.

Of course, you can’t live in their world any more without the internet, but guess what wasn’t working when we returned? This meant trips down to the mall to visit our friendly staff at Zuku who worked it all out for us.

Jetlag, unpacking, buying food, meetings on day 3, all were a bit much. Before Liz headed off to volunteer at her preschool I insisted that she put up the Christmas tree to keep her busy. Liz had absolutely no worries about jetlag. She slept like a baby, while Pete and I got about 2 hours sleep and stayed awake the remainder of the night. We’ve never had such jetlag in our entire lives, and we’ve done a lot of travelling. It took an entire week to get back to normal.

Coming home also meant that we were broke.

We stayed two weeks too long on our trip. While we had a couple of schools in that time, it really put the financial pressure on us. We didn’t realize how expensive the US was going to be for public transport and food. We stretched ourselves way further than ever before. We don’t have a credit card to fall back on, no savings that we could dig into. What we had is what we had and with the fall in the Aussie dollar there wasn’t much bang for your buck.

dollar

Coming home meant coming back to very little freedom. This has been my biggest challenge to date. No more walking around at night. Always having our bags and cars checked at church and shopping malls. Having to take off my jewellery before walking out in public. Locking the metal gate and door every time you step out, even to get rid of the garbage.

The loss of freedom is something I haven’t got used to. A friend who lives here but is in New Zealand over the Christmas break, couldn’t help but send me a post of Facebook post to say she had just walked home at 10pm at night. I miss freedom.

But – this is home.

 

 

mass

 

 

What I’ve learned about the US

We’ve spent 5 weeks in different parts of the US and a few more days in Canada. The main reason for coming was to get into the heads of people to see what they knew about Africa, water projects and how they felt about giving to projects there.

flag

What we learnt is that the majority of people know very little and only 40% of people there hold a passport. When we watched the news it was all slanted so that everything revolved around America. For example, when a hotel in Western Africa was attacked by terrorists, it was stated that it was an American hotel. It was a hotel owned by an American, that doesn’t make it American. Everything on TV is about the US.

I understand that it’s a huge country but when we were talking with students they know zero about the wider world. At one university a student mentioned that her father was Kenyan, she had been there twice – and that Kenya was an island. Hmm….

liz n tower

We’ve also learned that most of the people we talked abhorred Muslims. I’m sure this is fed by the biased media but we got the feeling that people fear in a huge way every Muslim. People were so shocked that we have many Muslim neighbours and are happy to live amongst them.

Before we went to the US, we ourselves were slightly biased against Americans. Many of the ones we’ve met in East Africa are loud, bossy and act as if they own the world. They drive around with the flashiest cars, have a lavish lifestyle and never get their hands dirty.

Now we’ve been here for a while, we’ve seen another side. People are more than happy to go out of their way to point you in the right direction. They are very hospitable and are even interested in finding out about Africa. Maybe because we were visitors we were treated extra nicely but we’ve been around long enough to know when someone is sucking up to you. Today we met a lady from Nigeria who was putting her story out there real thickly as soon as she knew we were from East Africa. Within the first minute she wanted to become Facebook buddies and then proceeded to tell us that she was missionary and a whole story to go with that.

Howard 6

The US is quite an expensive place to travel in. Well, when you’re on a super strict budget anyway. It probably cost us $100 a day to be here, and that’s on top of accommodation. It cost as much to eat out as Kenya, taxis are way more expensive but clothing is a much better price. Tipping is a total rip off. In Kenya we only tip if we get good service and maybe one or two dollars. Here it’s between ten and twenty percent. When you see a price for something, it doesn’t include tax, which is very easy to forget about. As much as possible we’ve tried to catch trains and buses, but it still adds up. To get to our friends house tonight cost us $10 one way. That’s pretty good but when you’ll be doing that trip twice a day for a week, you can see why we’ll be eating rice and beans when we return home.

We kept reminding ourselves that this is an investigative trip and not a holiday. Sure, we’ve fitted in a few fun things but this was all about the future for our organization, BeyondWater and trying to break into the US as a new market. Our next step is to build a team of interested people, then form a legal charity and return in a couple of years. One obvious thing is to build a US website, with American spelling and everything linking BeyondWater to have a US identity.

ive a dream

This trip has given us a small insight into what life is like here, some of the challenges and ways of life here. We hope we from this that we have a broader mindset of the American culture and will continue to build our friendships there.

To all of our old friends who we’ve reconnected with, it’s been a blast. For all of our new friends, what a pleasure it’s been to get to know you. Let’s do it all over again in a couple of years.

with trung and gloria

Travelling on a Shoestring

We love to travel, any where, any time. When we made the decision to move to Kenya I felt I had to kill the travel bug. You can’t volunteer somewhere, relying on donors to put food on the table, and be jet setting around the globe. It just isn’t right.

I wanted to see the Niagara Falls, the pyramids of Egypt and even visit an Amish farm.

whole falls

We’ve just completed 3 years in Kenya and about to start another 3 year stint. However, since we’ve moved there we’ve travelled more than ever before. So I thought I’d put together some tips for travelling on a super tight budget.

tea fieldsPlan well Ahead

You’re not going to get what you want if you leave it till the last minute. I often book a flight 6 months out and then work the itinerary within that time frame. It doesn’t always pan out, but it does give me time to research on what’s available. Only you can weigh on whether it’s better for your schedule if you can catch a bus or fly. On this trip we caught 6 flights, 7 bus trips and plenty of local trains. We could’ve cut down on the flights but riding a bus for 24 hours is pushing the limit for me.

IMG_1900Do your Homework

There is plenty of information on the internet. Use interest groups on Facebook to ask questions. For this latest trip we got told lots of incorrect information (the bus doesn’t stop, this is the best place to see something etc).

sign

I was so brain dead after travelling 30 hours from Kenya to the US that I got the wrong package for our phone (we only get a local SIM card for one phone). For another $15 I could’ve got a data package instead of just a text and talk package. It meant we had to rely on free wifi to access the internet, which isn’t always when you need it.

Cut down on your Costs

Some of your biggest costs on the ground will be accommodation and food. Why on earth would you spend lots of money on a hotel you are hardly in? I always try and get a place that has free wifi and breakfast provided. Even if there are 3 of us, we always share a room. Preferably we stay close to a train line.

If you can, bunk down at someone’s house. We always bring a small gift from Kenya for those who host us and it goes a long way to be appreciated.

If you’re in a place for a few days, check out whether it’s cheaper to get a weekly transport pass or just daily. A few weeks ago we stayed at someones place but found out it was $15 each way on the train, per person!

Food can be a big investment when travelling. Try to find a side walk diner rather than a restaurant. Shout yourself once a week to a good, solid meal. Buy fruit and bottles of water at the supermarket.

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Travel Lightly

Sometimes airlines charge for domestic flight baggage. We came to the US with 3 bags for a 6 week trip. We managed to store one at a friends house and just repacked everything. After a month, we returned to their house to pick up the other bag. Airlines were charging $25 per checked in bag, so it was better to pay for 2 rather than 3. How many trips have you taken and worn hardly anything you packed? Organise your smaller items like toiletries into zip lock bags in case they spill.

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Ask for Help

People are usually pretty good in helping out if you get lost or don’t know something. While it’s convenient to catch a cab, a train or bus can save you lots of dollars. We were in Buffalo, New York for a few hours and because we went to the info desk at the bus station, it saved us $60 not hiring a car, instead catching a $2 bus to Niagara Falls. Locals have the best information, just ask them.

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Use a Conversion App

Sometimes it gets confusing with trying to convert prices. Use a simple app like Xe to help you when it all gets too much. Some countries like the US don’t include taxes for many items to buy and it differs from state to state. Think about tipping charges as well. Find apps that help you before you go. Understand the difference in exchange rates and what your bank charges for withdrawals at ATM machines. Most banks have a relationship with a certain one in a foreign country which reduces your fees.

all the girls

Travel Maps

To a local, it’s very easy to get around. Not so much if you’re a tourist. Before you leave home, download maps, metro timetables and apps for Uber and Yelp. It will save you both time and money.

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